It’s widely accepted that the Mona Lisa wouldn’t have been painted if it hadn’t been commissioned by those of the wealthier class. It took a patron to provide the inspiration (perhaps on a variety of levels) for Leonardo DiVinci to
paint his masterpiece. And whether the painting includes endless deeper levels, as many speculate (including the claim that it’s a bizarro self portrait), someone ultimately showed Leonardo the money to paint the Mona Lisa.
Of course today artists still can make a living on grand commissioned work for the wealthiest of our lot. But, let’s face it, generally professional artists have a tough go of it. Typically they do their work on the side of another job, or often, industrious ones are able to incorporate their skills to provide artwork for such crass things as marketing and advertising.
You know, sell out.
As a marketing professional myself I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, and with great appreciation of artists and designers who are not only very gifted but have the ability to deliver memorable work for customers and consumers.
But, an artist being just, well, an artist – that is a tall task. And yet, it’s this very economic reality that has made the artist a key foundation of economic development in communities throughout the country and the world.
Just think Brooklyn more than a decade ago, Jamaica Plain (Boston), Pittsfield, Mass., and others that have followed this formula. In a recent MSN Real Estate article highlighting neighborhoods “From Blighted to Bling: 10 Revitalized Neighborhoods,” you see a familiar theme. An area becomes depressed because of the loss of certain industry, suburban sprawl, or various other reasons. Property values plummet. Things look bad, real bad. But, if you’re lucky, that’s when the artists come in. Ample space and cheap rent is a perfect combination to light the spark that can often serve as a harbinger of things to come – the early casting of the cornerstone of an eventual revitalization.
In fact, part of the formula and the process has been controversial in the sense that neighborhoods and communities experiencing this revitalization ultimately become gentrified, leaving the artists in the cold. But, then again, when the neighborhood becomes too conventional why would a real artist want to stay. What real artist wants to live with yuppies?
In Pittsfield, it was artist Maggie Mailer who spearheaded the idea to go a step further – not only encouraging artists to rent space in the depressed former GE town – but to literally fill the storefronts of the vacant downtown. The Storefront Artist Project was the spark in Pittsfield that led to more encouragement of the arts, like Sheeptacular, Art of the Game, the publicly-supported revitalization of the historic Colonial Theatre, and the relocation to the city of the Tony Award-winning music theater production company Barrington Stage. Supported with innovative efforts by the city, like the establishment of a downtown arts overlay district, enabling more mixed use of residential and commercial in a formerly commercial-only sector, the creation of the office of cultural development, and countless city-supported cultural activities – Pittsfield has put itself on the map, garnering attention across the Northeast and beyond for its innovation. In fact, the Storefront Artist Project was so successful, it literally put itself out of business by achieving the goal of eliminating empty storefronts in the downtown.
The numbers back up the argument that arts and culture are not only good for business, but they are simply good business generating significant economic impact.
But, back to Mona Lisa and Leonardo – we truly do tend to love the art. As for the artist? Well, not necessarily so much.
Once again, in a unique way it’s Pittsfield that has been innovative is establishing a bit of an arts stimulus program with the help its monthly downtown arts festival’s lead sponsor. We recently talked about how Allen Harris of Berkshire Money Management chose to ensure that the First Fridays ArtsWalk would continue through the end of the year, saying that, for him, it is more of an investment in economic development than a goodwill gesture.
Last week it was announced that Harris again will bolster the ArtsWalk and likely put more
dollars in the pockets of artists with the new ArtsBucks program. The ArtsBuck, appropriately adorned with the image of Mona Lisa in place of the Benjamin Franklin is worth $100, hard-cold cash for those who partake.
Here’s the deal, get your $100 ArtsBuck, spend $200 or more on a work of art during the upcoming First Fridays ArtsWalk in October, present the ArtsBuck and get a $100 rebate compliments of Berkshire Money Management. The details of how to get your rebate are on the tails side of your ArtsBuck.
As Harris said at the press conference, it may just be that extra push to buy that piece of art you’ve been eying.
It’s a program that Leonardo would have appreciated, for sure. More art for more people, celebrating how arts and culture have helped enhance the quality of life of us all.
President of OneEighty Media, Inc., John Krol serves as Director of Accounts and lead communications consultant for this full-service marketing, communications and advertising firm. John’s extensive experience in journalism, broadcasting, public relations, government relations, SEM, community outreach and marketing provides a unique perspective for businesses looking to re-energize and diversify their marketing efforts.